The All Good Books group will meet online using Zoom tomorrow, Thursday, May 21, 2020, at 7 PM. Information on how to access Zoom will be sent separately.  The following are questions that we can use to generate discussion if necessary. I look forward to chatting with you on Zoom tomorrow evening!

  1. How would you describe each of the main characters? Alice Van Cleve, Bennett Van Cleve, Geoffrey Van Cleve, Annie, Isabelle Brady, Mrs. Brady, Sven Gustavsson, Frank O’Hare, Margery O’Hare, Sophia, William, Beth Pinker, Kathleen Bligh.
  2. On the first day with Isabelle (Izzy on the circuit, Alice thinks, “Perhaps it would be easier if the girl weren’t so sullen: her mood seemed to cast a pall over the morning, and even the glorious sunshine and soft breeze couldn’t alleviate it.” Have you ever known someone whose attitude darkens the whole day? How do you handle that?” See page 53.
  3. On page 58, Margery looks at Alice and says, “This is what people don’t see, wrapped up in their cities, with the noise and the smoke, and their tiny boxes for houses. Up there you can breathe. You can’t hear the town talking and talking. No eyes on you, ’cept God’s. It’s just you and the trees and the birds and the river and the sky and freedom….Out there, it’s good for the soul.” If you’re a city dweller, how do you respond to nature? If you live in a rural area, is your view different or the same as Margery’s?
  4. What’s your reaction to the descriptive passages in the novel, such as on page 63 where the author writes, “As they rode, Margery talked to Alice of milkweed and goldenrod, pointing out Jack-in-the-pulpit and the tiny fragile flowers of touch-me-nots, so that once where Alice had just seen a sea of green, she had pulled back a veil to reveal a whole new dimension.” Too much, too little, just enough description? Does it add to the novel or interfere with the plot line?
  5. How would you respond to the Louisa May Alcott’s quote on page 65 that “…marriage, they say, halves one’s rights and doubles one’s duties.”
  6. Why is Margery resistant to marrying Sven? See page 66.
  7. On page 68, sundowners are labeled as such because “They’re good old boys in daylight hours, but come nightfall when they get to drinking, they’re basically a pair of fists looking for a target.” Do we have sundowners today?
  8. “Mountain people, Margery had instructed her, were proud. Many of them didn’t feel comfortable receiving without giving something back. (page 74). Are city folks like that too?
  9. On page 82 Margery thought, “A certain kind of man looked at God’s own land, she thought, as she drew closer, and instead of beauty and wonder, all he saw was dollar signs.” Any such examples today?
  10. The quote from the Farm Journal (page 91 of the novel) states” My mother didn’t hold with twenty-four-hour-old pies, except mince. She would get up an hour earlier in order to bake a pie before breakfast but she would not bake any kind of custard or fruit pie, even pumpkin, the day before it was to be used, and if she had my father wouldn’t have eaten it.” Is that typical of “fathers” when you were growing up? How about now?
  11. Page 91 refers to a “raconteur.” What is a raconteur? Ever known one?
  12. Why isn’t Alice getting pregnant? What’s your theory? See pages 93-95.
  13. The mine conditions are described on page 116. Were you aware of the depression era mine conditions? Why did miners keep working in such a dangerous environment?
  14. The author describes hog-slaughtering time (page 120). What was your reaction to that mining town event?
  15. Why would Sophia say, “I’m not crazy about places where there are crowds” (on page 123).
  16. Sophia states (page 125) “Life is complicated. Which is why finding a little joy where you can is important.” Do you agree?
  17. Why do you think the author started chapter 8 (page 137) with the Steinbeck quote? “Out of a thousand centuries they drew the ancient admiration…that a man on a horse is spiritually as well as physically bigger than a man on foot.”
  18. Henry Porteus states (page 138) regarding the library, “There are reports of wives no longer keeping house because they are too busy reading fancy magazines or cheap romances. There are children picking up disruptive ideas from comic books. We’re struggling to control what influences are coming into our homes.” Why has each generation had proponents of book censorship? Do you believe a library should restrict the materials it offers to patrons?
  19. What does the dispute over hiring Sophia in the Library and subsequent town meeting say about the role of women and people of color in the novel? See pages 137-143.
  20. Are there differences between funeral practices in the depression era mining community described (pages 143-146) and how funerals or wakes occur in today’s society? Have such practices changed over your lifetime?
  21. Why was Margery so scared that she started carrying a Colt .45 pistol (page 169)?
  22. On page 173 considers the life of Mrs. Van Cleve; “Every day Alice was reminded of a life that had been almost solely focused on the inside of these walls, on tiny, meaningless tasks, tasks Alice felt increasingly strongly that no adult woman should view as the sum total of her day’s activities: dolls, embroidery, the dusting and precise rearranging of totems that no man noticed anyway. Until she had gone, after which they had become a shrine to a woman they now insisted they idolized.” Is there anything wrong with a life dedicated to four walls and a family?
  23. How did you react to Alice’s mother’s letter stating she was not welcome to return home? Why did she react that way? Would there ever be a case where you would not let a family member return home? Why? Do you think Alice should have had the opportunity to return home?
  24. On page 187, Margery tells Alice “There is always a way out of a situation. Might be ugly. Might leave you feeling like the earth has gone and shifted under your feet. But you are never trapped, Alice. You hear me? There is always a way around.” Do you agree? Explain. Did Margery follow her own advice?
  25. On page 197, Margery says, “You know the worst thing about a man hitting you?” “Ain’t the hurt. It’s that in that instant you realize the truth of what it is to be a woman. That it don’t matter how smart you are, how much better at arguing, how much better than them, period. It’s when you realize they can always just shut you up with a fist. Just like that.” How does that describe women’s rights today?
  26. Who was Selena to Fred (page 201)? What did she do?
  27. When Mr. Van Cleeve’s sends a message to Alice with $50 he says, “This was always a fruitful measure with my dear late Dolores and I trust you will view it equally favorably. We can all let bygones be bygones.” What was your reaction?
  28. What does the novel say about rumors (page 214)?
  29. On page 219, Pastor Macintosh comes to persuade Alice to return home. Why does she say, “I do so enjoy our Bible studies!” What did you think of the Pastor’s arguments?
  30. The author states (page 228), “Alice had discovered how, for a woman at least, it was much easier to feel anger on behalf of someone you cared about, to access that cold burn, to want to make someone suffer if they had hurt someone you loved.” What makes it easier for Alice to fight for someone she loves than for herself?
  31. On page 240, the author describes the mood of Alice and Fred as, “Time flew, and each ended the night full and happy, with the rare glow that comes from knowing your very being has been understood by somebody else, and that there might just be someone out there who will only ever see the best in you.” Have you ever experienced that sentiment?
  32. What’s the significance of the Faulkner quote from As I Lay Dying, on page 243? What does the following quote foreshadow? “That’s the one trouble with this country: everything, weather, all, hangs on too long. Like our rivers, our land: opaque, slow, violent; shaping and creating the life of man in its implacable and brooding image.”
  33. On page 270, the end of Mrs. Brady’s disagreement with her husband concludes with this thought; “deflated a little in victory, [she] felt a sudden tenderness for her husband and, after a moment, reached out a conciliatory hand. And it was like this, as the light broke, that the maid found them an hour and a half later, still fully dressed, and snoring on the huge mahogany bed, their hands entwined between them.” There’s a saying that you should never go to bed angry (with a spouse or partner), do you believe that? Do you practice it?
  34. The quote from The Women Was Too Tough by Virginia Culin Roberts states (page 283), “Men expected women to be calm, collected, cooperative, and chaste. Eccentric conduct was frowned upon, and any female who got too far out of line could be in serious trouble.” Do you believe that quote reflects what men in the 1930s thought about women? What about today?
  35. Fred called Alice out of the cabin to view a field of fireflies. What’s so special about fireflies? See page 308.
  36. How did you react to Margery’s request that Sven take Virginia and never return to Baileyville (page 328)? Would you have taken that action?
  37. Any reaction to the clerk’s announcement that “Women…would be allowed to leave [the courthouse] several minutes before the men at lunchtime and at the end of the day in order to prepare meals?
  38. Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?
  39. Would you recommend the novel to someone else? Any stipulations on who you would recommend it to and who not?
  40. How would you summarize the important issues, if any, raised by the novel?